Facing the Challenge of Electronic Waste (e-waste)
Modern society has produced a wide array of electronic devices that have been a boon to productivity and personal enjoyment. The rapid pace of technological advancement continues to offer opportunities for new or upgraded electronic equipment. In turn, electronic waste or e-waste is now the fastest growing segment of Tennessee's solid waste stream.
E-waste is a general category for electronic products facing displacement or replacement that are hazardous due to the toxic metals present with their internal materials, coatings and glass. E-waste contains metals and other materials that can be hazardous to human health and the environment if they are not properly managed. According to an EPA study, 40% of the lead in U.S. landfills is from discarded electrical and electronic products. E-waste may include personal computers, monitors, televisions, keyboards, printers, telephones, typewriters, calculators, copiers, fax machines and audio equipment.
Why Recycle or Recover e-waste?
There are commodities worth capturing in e-waste plus there are substances of concern in electronics that should be kept out of the environment. Traditional recycling commodities in computers and components include glass, metals and plastic. The metals include ordinary metals like aluminum and steel; precious metals like gold and platinum; as well as toxic heavy metals including cadmium, nickel and lead. Most computer recyclers utilize an integrated approach that seeks to refurbish whole systems, gather working parts for reuse and locate scrap markets for remainder of the materials.
Core electronics recycling typically includes computer components such as central processing units (CPUs), cathode ray tubes (CRTs)/monitors, printers, mice, keyboards and other peripherals. Beyond computers e-waste recycling includes televisions, cell phones and other personal portable electronic devices like pagers and PDAs.
NOTE: Electronic devices like photocopiers, stereo equipment, DVD players and gaming platforms are not always accepted for recycling.
Preferred Options When Handling e-waste
The volume, weight, storage needs and costs associated with e-waste present special challenges but can be safely managed if individuals, organizations, communities and agencies take thoughtful, coordinated action. Best management practices prescribe e-waste to be handled in the most environmentally desirable method. It is helpful to understand the preferred hierarchy for handling e-waste:
2. Recycling of equipment or components for material recovery.
3. Management of components for energy recovery.
4. Disposal of components via incineration.
Managing e-waste is not a simple process. It requires time, understanding and effort. The department is pleased to share more specific information on e-waste and electronics recycling tailored to these different stakeholders: